How can a sexual harassment at work or at work from home be reported?
How can a sexual harassment at work or at work from home be reported?
Sexual harassment of women at work is a heinous crime, because if it is not curbed in a strict manner, it may lead to oppression of women, pushing them away from expressing their abilities at workplace. Realizing that, the government made certain rules to protect the women facing discomfort at work.
In India, unfortunately, the number of cases of sexual harassment at the workplace increased when the women started coming out of their households and started building their careers in different fields.
It became necessary to protect them against any sexual harassment at work because it is their right to live with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution.
Sexual harassment is a sensitive issue, if not treated rigorously, it may affect the victim for a lifetime. Therefore, the government has established laws and implemented them strictly to ensure a safer opportunity to grow in career and life for women.
What constitutes sexual harassment at work?
The Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (POSH) Act provides the circumstances under which an act may amount to sexual harassment. These are:
• Any promise implied or in an explicit way to give a preference at work, whether bonus, promotion or any other advantage in exchange is a sexual favour. However, if the woman has voluntarily agreed to the proposal and later the promise is not kept, the remedy cannot be sought under POSH Act.
• Any threat to a woman expressively or in an implied way that if she doesn't agree to a sexual favour, she might face negative consequences like stopping her promotion, holding back her bonus.
• Any implied or explicit threat about her present or future employment status. In this situation, even if the woman agrees to such sexual favours being in an acute need to save her job, she can still seek justice under POSH, because her situation pressurized her to agree.
• Any interference with her work or creating an intimidating or offensive or hostile work environment for her or humiliating treatment likely to affect her health or safety.
What are the provisions to protect women in case of sexual harassment?
There are certain provisions laid down by the POSH Act to protect the women, and by reading these, you'll also get to know the procedures you should follow if you or anyone you know is being sexually harassed at work. They are as follows:
• Every organisation, which has more than 10 employees, should have an Internal Complaint Commitee (ICC), consisting of three members, one from the management team, one woman who is an employee of the organisation and holds an important position, usually the HR takes the chair, if it is a woman, and another person who is a women's rights activist, preferably from an well established organization working for women and children.
Any such incident should be filed within 90 days from the date of its occurrence. In case of a delay, there should be an enough reason for such delay.
The complaint should be made in writting, and the ICC is liable to report the matter to the employer or to the district office within 10 days of filing such complaint, about the investigation the ICC has conducted regarding the matter.
There have been instances, where the issue was raised that the ICC is trying to suppress the matter, or trying to brainwash the woman to believe that she is over-reacting. For that, the woman can take the next step.
When the victim or complainant is not satisfied with the report and resolution passed by the ICC, she can proceed to the tribunal as the next judicial process. The complainant can file an appeal before the tribunal attaching the copy of the resolution passed by the ICC, within 30 days of passing the resolution.
What is the punishment for sexually harassing a woman at workplace?
The penalty imposed on the person sexually harassing a woman at workplace follows the provision prescribed by the Indian Penal Code.
But, before that it is necessary to know about the incidents which can be brought under the purview of protection under the Code.
• Sec. 354A of the Code says that sexual harassment is an unwelcome physical contact and advances, including unwanted and explicit sexual overtures, a demand or request for sexual favours, showing someone sexual images (pornography) without their consent, and making unwelcome sexual remarks. The accused shall be imprisoned for a period upto three years with a fine imposed.
• As per Sec. 354B of the Code, if the woman if forced to undress, then the imprisonment shall be for a period between three to seven years along with fine imposed.
• As per Sec. 354C of the Code, if the co-worker is accused of watching or capturing images of a woman without her consent (voyeurism), then the accused shall face an imprisonment for a period of one to three years along with a fine. If the accused repeats the same after being convicted once, the punishment raises to a period of three to seven years along with monetary fine on second conviction.
• As per Sec. 354D of the Code, following a woman and contacting her, or attempts to contact such woman to foster personal interaction repeatedly despite a clear indication of disinterest by such woman; or . monitoring a woman using the internet or any other form of electronic communication, in short stalking is punishable for a period of three years maximum in prison. Further, if the person after being released from jail repeats the same he may again get imprisoned for a period of another five years along with monetary penalties.
What is the remedy if a woman is faced sexual harassment from a colleague while working from home?
Sexual harassment is not limited to physical means anymore. It has extended its arms electronically and in an era of work from home, and an unstable economic situation, where everyone's job is almost at a danger, some evil minds are making the best use of it.
Now, making sexually suggestive remarks or overtones during work calls; serious repeated offensive remarks or such as teasing related to persons body or appearance; indecent behaviour during video calls; sexually coloured remarks in chats; lewd calls, messages or emails; offensive comments or jokes; inappropriate questions, suggestions or remarks about persons sex life; displaying sexy or other offensive pictures, messages or e-mails; intimidation, threat, blackmail around sexual favours; threat, intimidation or retaliation about employees who speak against the harassment; unwelcome online invitations, flirting; unwelcome advances with promises or threats explicit or implicit; persistently asking someone out; online stalking; comments or rumours about the victim's sexual activities; sharing sexually explicit photos without consent etc.
Thus, any conduct or words with a sexual connotation that interferes with an employee's ability to work or create an uncomfortable atmosphere while working remotely can also be considered sexual harassment.
Any woman facing these can proceed to complaint to the ICC or to HR, and take all the necessary steps as it would have been done in case of a physically present office matter.
The discussion of bringing new policies under POSH Act is going on and it is anticipated that soon a new amendment shall be added protecting women against sexual harassment even while working virtually.
Vishakha and others vs State of Rajasthan
It is a landmark case which actually pointed out the dirty environment the women were being subjected to at workplace, if she became a prey of a sexual harassment at work. Either she was leaving her job or if helpless was forced to bow down before the sexual offender.
Through the judgement of the case, the court suggested certain preventive steps - All employers or persons in charge of work place whether in public or private sector should take appropriate steps to prevent sexual harassment. Without chauvinism to the generality of this obligation they should take the following measures:
• Express prohibition of sexual harassment at the work place should be notified, published and circulated in appropriate ways.
• The rules of government and public sector bodies relating to conduct and discipline should include rules prohibiting sexual harassment and provide for adequate and appropriate penalties against the offender.
• As regards private employers, steps should be taken to include the aforesaid prohibitions in the standing orders under the Industrial Employment (standing orders) Act, 1946.
• Appropriate work conditions should be provided in respect of work, leisure, health and hygiene to further ensure that there is no hostile environment towards women at work places and no employee woman should have reasonable grounds to believe that she is disadvantaged in connection with her employment.